The next time teachers scour the literature for ways to help their students learn better, they might want to pick up a new book written by students for teachers.
If they do, they'll find out about Starburst math, about the Rainbow Handwriting Award, about Max and E. T., the Minute of Silence and a host of other tricks, activities and strategies that the students themselves "battle-tested"--with the result that they now study more and enjoy education more.
The book, "School Our Way," is a product of the students in teacher Rick Morris' sixth-grade class at Sequoia Elementary School in Clairemont. It will be on sale Saturday for $3 (tax included) at the annual Mentor Teachers Conference that starts Friday in downtown San Diego.
In the introduction, the class says its illustrated guide is chock-full of "20 terrific techniques for a happier, more productive class."
As part of a two-month writing project, the students picked their favorites from the many ideas that Morris uses to create a more exciting class. The ideas are geared toward involving students in routine teacher chores as well as stimulating them to go beyond the rote recitation still common in many schools.
Not many classrooms, for example, feature "Educational Reserve Notes" in the form of paper money--with Morris' picture smack in the middle--that students receive for a chore well done or an answer well reasoned, redeemable in their student-run classroom store for snacks or supplies.
Nor in most classes is there hanging a "Come-and-Get-It-Chuckwagon!" music triangle that students clang anytime a peer is reading aloud with too little expression.
Morris, well known among county educators for the enthusiasm and creativity he brings to teaching, has long wanted to write a book about classroom management techniques he has cooked up over the years and presented at teacher training seminars.
"Why not have the students do it?" Morris asked. "After all, they can tell you what really works and what doesn't."
The book's selections include the simple, such as "Max," the name given to the class digital timer they use instead of classroom clocks, which are on the fritz most of the time.
From the book: "We use Max to keep track of how long we have to work on something." The teacher simply sets "Max" for the amount of time needed for an assignment. "Max" beeps when time is up.
As student Sabrina Neuenswander said: "It makes it easier for us to pay attention because we don't keep asking Mr. Morris to look at his watch."
Or take Starburst math, named after the popular candy. The teacher dons a white lab coat with a fistful of Starburst squares in the right side pocket and a name tag on the lapel--except that, in place of a name, there's a math problem drawn in bright colors.
The teacher, transformed into "Dr. Starburst," solicits students eager to come up with an answer and gain a candy reward. Students write their solutions on slips of paper and stuff their answers in the lab coat's left pocket, where the teacher can then check them.
The book even promotes Classroom Clean-Up.
"There's a jar full of jobs written on paper that are handed out randomly, and which we have three minutes to do," student Richard Padilla said. 'It's our way of helping out the custodian."
Morris is a legend among students at Sequoia for his energy, excitement and caring attitude--and fifth-graders routinely pray to be assigned to his classroom the following year, students Gabe Legaspi and Sergio Enriquez said.
"He's firm, but he doesn't ever raise his voice," Mario Vazquez said. Added Mike Fisher: "We learn a lot of stuff without just using our books."
Morris used the book-writing project to push creative thinking, writing, cooperative learning and art into one integrated learning project,
"Early on, I picked 'Max' as an example for students to think about how to describe," Morris said. "We talked about it for a while, then I gave everyone 20 minutes to write down their thoughts."
Morris took the papers home, made notes for the students, and then solicited a student editor who had turned in a colorful description for that chapter. That student was paired with a classmate to look over all the papers and come up with a final version.
"Over-achiever, under-achiever, it doesn't matter," Morris said. "The key is to get kids involved, to give them power in a positive sense, because otherwise they'll grab onto negative power."
Morris had the final product copyrighted and printed using his desktop publishing system.
What was the hardest part to writing the book? "Thinking about what to put down on paper," Paul Ruiz said, to the nods of his peers.
For Morris, the only real surprise came in looking over some of the student selections, such as clay sculpting. It was a new idea this year to mesh art, listening and creativity. While students model clay, Morris reads from a novel.
Morris wasn't sure how it would go over. The class embraced it.
"The purpose is to see how creative you can be as you listen to a story," the students wrote. "After we are finished, we walk around the room to see what other students have created."